Rita M. Giannandrea

Rita M. Giannandrea Rita M. Giannandrea, the matriarch of a pioneering farm family, died from failing health on Nov. 6th, 2012. She was 89. Rita was born on Oct. 13, 1923 in Louisville, Ky., the first child of Italian immigrants Francesco and Annunciata Franceschini. They soon followed other immigrants to Santa Cruz, Calif., where Rita was raised on a coastline farm that grew sprouts and artichokes. Rita met her future husband Deno Giannandrea, also from an immigrant family, in 1942. Coast Guardsman Deno was assigned to protect the Santa Cruz area. He showed up one night at the Franceschini's because light was showing from a window that was supposed to be blacked-out under war-time restrictions. Deno would stop by the ranch house several more times under the guise of Coast Guard business when he really just wanted to see Rita. They married on Nov. 12, 1943. After the war they began farming and raising kids in Cutler on Missouri Ave. (Rd 120). The early years were so poor, grocery bills weren't paid until crops were in. Rita was raising three boys and soon discovered she was too close to her in-laws, so in December 1949 they bought a 60-acre ranch in Orosi, where she lived for 63 years. One of Rita's first jobs out of high school was accounting, which served her well as a farm wife. Rita kept the books for the farm that started out with grapes and pasture, then evolved into tree-fruit and kiwi, with cotton and watermelons filling in open ground. Rita and Deno became one of the first growers in California to plant the fuzzy kiwi after seeing someone pay $14 for a 7-pound flat in the early 1970s. Rita was notorious for writing letters and keeping every scrap of paper to record ranch operations and family activities. She loved to write letters - the phone was only for business - and birthdays were always remembered. The kiwifruit's success in the late 1970s allowed for the addition of acreage and a packing house where Rita enjoyed running the office. It was during these years that they met the son of a New Zealand kiwi farmer who happened onto the ranch, was invited to spend the night, then stayed for two years working on the ranch. Stuart Elliston substituted for all the sons who had left the farm. Rita and Deno eventually visited Stuart's family in New Zealand to create a permanent bond. With the ranch turning a profit, a patio initially used for canning of fruits and vegetables during hard times was turned into an air conditioned office with kitchen. It was within this glass-walled enclave where Rita lived and managed the ranch, where no-one knocked, coffee was always made and meals were expanded to entice visitors to stay. Visitors were her constant pleasure and she remembered everyone without fail: farmers, friends and their children, too. The 100-year-old house from where she cared and fed everyone during her first 25 years on the ranch was abandoned for the patio. It was finally renovated two years ago. Rita was 87, using a walker and legally blind, but glowing with happiness. When Rita returned home to begin hospice care there were tears in her eyes as she whispered "I'm home." She loved her farm life, the old house and all the memories created there. Survivors include her brother and sister-in-law Tony and Della Franceschini of Santa Cruz, son and daughter-in-law Gary and Sam Giannandrea of Arcata, son and daughter-in-law David Giannandrea and Caroline Moranda of Tehachapi, daughter-in-law Kay Giannandrea of Cutler, daughter Julia Giannandrea of Beaverton, Ore., son Eric Giannandrea of Orosi, and grand-children Staci Hebert of Dallas, Nick Giannandrea of Visalia, Laurie Stohl of Visalia, Jason Menefee of Santa Cruz, Melanie Giannandrea of Visalia, Gianni Giannandrea of Tulsa, Okla., and MaryAnn Giannandrea of Tulare. She also has 10 great grandchildren and was preceded in death by husband Deno and son Mike Giannandrea. Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 21, 2012 at Smith Mountain Cemetery in Sultana followed by a reception at the Giannandrea Ranch. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to: Mike Giannandrea Memorial Scholarship, c/o Orosi High School Scholarships, 12623 Ave. 416, Orosi, CA 93647.


Published in Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Adv-Register on Nov. 10, 2012